Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You're Beautiful

"You're beautiful" gets thrown around a lot, but maybe sometimes not enough.  I have been told this throughout my life, and to be honest, I really have never believed it.  It's so easy to tell our friends they're beautiful, and we genuinely mean it.  So how come we can't do the same for ourselves?

I look back on pictures of myself and remember that at the time I was so self conscious, felt like I was too fat, my hair was not right, etc... only to think in the present how I'd chop off my right arm to look that fantastic again.  I have vivid memories of grade school, of being jealous of the girls that wore a particular kind of pants, because my body shape didn't so much lend itself to them looking quite the same on me.  I wished that the bulkiness residing between my hips and my knees would just melt away so I could be "normal".  Normal.  What was I thinking???  I was totally normal, and if I ever for one second could fathom thinking those thoughts about any little girl today I would kick my own ass.

As much jealousy I felt for those girls, I never once looked down on or judged or thought less-pretty the ones that were bigger than me.  They were just as beautiful, but I saw them for WHO they were, usually more friendly to me and with laughter and smiles their eyes would dance.  I thought they shone, but still found a way to let my self-perceived faults get under my skin.

Being told I was pretty or beautiful has always made me uncomfortable and a little annoyed at times because I felt I had more to offer than vanity.  I also never believed it, brushing off a compliment to embrace a different theory, like he must be trying to get in my pants or she must have a sinister motive, or she's my friend and is just trying to make me feel better.  Hair coiffed and full makeup made me seem stuck up, self-centered, unapproachable to some.  For me, though, it was just a mask to hide the self-conscious girl who thought she wasn't pretty, wasn't good enough.  Everyone knew back then that the bigger your hair was, the smaller your butt would the perms and the hairspray and control top pantyhose were constant - thank you '80s.  No wonder the beauty industry will never tank no matter the state of our economy.

I have one friend in particular who really is one of the most beautiful people I know.  I have never seen an unflattering picture of her.  She literally looks like an angel and she always has.  She has struggled with her weight issues for a good part of her life, but still radiates this unexplainable light.  I remember her making a disparaging remark about her less favorite body parts and I physically felt like someone stabbed me in the heart.  It crushed me to hear her talk that way about herself, to know that she felt that way when I thought she was absolutely perfect.  I've also had a few gal-pals throughout life that will call me on it when I do that.  They'll say "don't you dare talk about my friend like that".  It's pretty effective in snapping you out of it.

Then there's my boys, who will grab me by the cheeks, get in my face, and say "Mommy, you are so pretty".  It's easy to pass that off as less than expert opinion because they also think Daddy is Superman and that I have special powers because I know how to make tomato soup out of a can.  Kids are right and honest though, particularly when they don't filter what their hearts feel.  Mine say this mostly when I'm laying in bed in sweatpants and hair a mess.  They don't get all impressed with silly things like lipstick or hairspray.

And so to all the girls in my life: I think you are unbelievably beautiful, each and every one of you.  You are all so unique in yourselves, in your relationship with me, and I'm so thankful for the bonds we have shared.  Go on with the hair color, the eyeshadow, the wrinkle creams, whatever it takes to make you feel good (and not like a crazy homeless woman like I feel on a bad hair day)...but please be as kind to yourself as you would your best friend.

To the boys: Thank you for the compliments, it must have taken some amount of courage to say it.  I will take the comments under consideration with more seriousness, and make sure that my kids continue feeling comfortable saying may come in handy for them someday...I just hope whomever is on the receiving end believes them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

May the Force(d Christmas Spirit) Be with You

Let me start by saying I really hope everyone was able to experience this holiday season at least a little bit through the eyes of a child.  No matter how your feelings shake out about it, it's near impossible to ignore the magical, mystical wonder that comes with little ones who get so excited, so filled with electric anticipation that they very well could power up all the Christmas lights if you could harness and redirect the power.

Secondly, I must acknowledge it's been since Halloween that I've gotten any thoughts out here.  Thanksgiving came and went and then we all know how the downhill slide to December 25th goes.  I'm a busy mom, a busy wife, a busy daughter....and I've neglected to take the time to get here and have my say.  I did, however, get all my Christmas cards out in time - score one for me.

This holiday season, my goal was to ignore the things that typically bring me down, the crazed shoppers and their less-than-courteous attitudes, the people in my life who have chronically disappointed me, the cold that makes my prematurely arthritic joints feel as though they'll surely snap in two.  Instead, I tried not to go into any stores when I was crunched for time, electing to go when I could be leisurely relaxed about spending extra minutes in the checkout lines, feathers not ruffled over the top-heavy carts ahead of me nor the inexperienced checkers who were just trying to earn some extra money during a difficult time of year for some.  I took the time to bundle myself as well as I did my kids, to make sure the cold wouldn't get to my bones as quickly as the days when I didn't bother paying attention to my own needs.  I repeatedly told myself that some relationships just won't ever work, and that instead of beating myself up trying to change for those people, that it really is them and not me with the issues.  It's way more important for me to focus attention on those who bring joy and love into my life than those who complicate it.

I thought this was especially important this year because the kids are getting to the age where they will pick up on and project my attitude.  I want both of them to be kind, tolerant, altruistic, and not let others dictate how they feel about themselves.  That's what we all want for our children, but I thought it hypocritical for me to live in the unfortunate reality of grown-upism and the harsh disappointments that come with it when all it takes is a shift in personal attitude to create the example you'd want others to set for your kids.

So I whole-heartedly did small things alone...I made sure I had at least some change for the bell ringers before heading to the store.  I put the groceries on the checkout belt for a gentleman in an electric scooter.  I bought a gift for my husband that I knew he really wanted, even though it wasn't something I would have given him.  I tried very hard to force myself to do things to remind myself it's not all about me.  Once I felt the joy that always brings, the happiness from an unreciprocated act, I knew I could pass the lesson onto the boys with more confidence.

I told them we were going somewhere special.  Immediately the quizzing began.


"Ehhh, not exactly.  We're going to the store, and you can buy anything you want for anyone you want except yourself."

They quickly turned to each other and started whispering.

"Okay, you buy something for me, and I'll buy something for you, but I'm going to tell you what I want."

"NO!  That's not the way this works.  We are NOT buying anything for anyone who is in this car right now."

"Darn it.  I don't want to go then."

All through the dollar store we trudged, and as the toys filed into the cart, their attitudes became lighter.  Their selections were hilarious as they began to focus on purposeful reasons for picking what they picked.  Sixteen dollars plus tax later, we were on our way home.  They wondered what they'd get in return for these gifts they were giving.

"You aren't going to get anything from them.  It's like if we bought a bag of dog food and took it to the animal shelter for those doggies who don't have families.  Those doggies can't give you anything back, but it would still make your heart feel good."

Later that night, every time Esten looked at me he would start crying.  I was annoyed thinking he was letting his selfishness get the better of him.  I finally got out of him what the problem was.

"I'm just so sad for those doggies that don't have families or a home!"

Praise the Lord.  He finally got it, kind of.  I didn't mean for his sensitive side to take such a blow though.  He eventually got over it, and a few days later we began wrapping.  They were in charge of putting bows on and putting the gifts under the tree.  Once they were into the process, the bubbles of anticipation and satisfaction of wanting to give were coming to the surface.  When the time came, we loaded up all the gifts and took them to the family gathering spot where all the recipients would be.  Before the other gifts were given, my boys passed out their offerings to those they selected....all their cousins, one auntie, and one uncle.  The other aunties and uncles were prepped and properly braced for the disappointment of not being on the list.  The kids opened up those gifts, one by one, and the smiles on my boys' faces grew with each as they eagerly explained why they picked that present for that cousin.  It was one of the best parts of the holiday, and my heart felt amazing that I was able to give that "gift" to my children.  To shift their focus even briefly from the greediness that inherently comes with this time of year was a feat I wasn't sure would happen, but I'm so thankful it did.

Of course if you ask them about the best part, they'll say it was the DS that Santa brought each of them.  And that's okay, because I won't be waiting until next Christmas to repeat the exercise in giving, I'll try to make it a habit that lasts all year.  It feels so fantastic and you know, it's all about me.